Press freedom is vital with journalists being arrested in the ‘land of the free’

This is the way most of the World sees the USA these daysS

I had been meaning for a number of weeks to write a blog about the state of the USA. I do this because I have many American followers and because what happens in America does affect the rest of the World as well as affecting its own people. However yesterday I saw this excellent editorial in the Independent to which I have subscribed since it went on-line only a few years ago. This editorial is excellent so I am simply pinching it! The Independent is a great newspaper and is truly independent so why not sign up yourself?

When the phone rings with news of a reporter being arrested, certain members of staff spring immediately to mind. The Independent has people based permanently in countries with poor records for jailing journalists. We often send correspondents into hostile environments such as war zones and coups. There are events to be recorded and important stories to be reported. You can’t cover everything from behind a desk, and risks can be minimised and managed to some degree.

But this one was different. You don’t naturally expect the jailed journalist in question to be in America, the land of the free, a nation rightly proud of its First Amendment, with its reverence for long-established institutions from The New York Times to the Associated Press; a country where movies are made about investigative missions and scoops and holding power to account; where Watergate is just one of a number of journalistic achievements held so widely and so rightly in the highest regard.

And once we had adjusted to the shock of this out-of-hours call coming from the United States, one of the last places in America that we would have expected to hear from would have been Seattle, with its liberal air. Yet it was in Seattle that an Independent staff correspondent was jailed on 1 July while doing his job. We will let Andrew Buncombe tell his own story in his own time – he has earnt that – but let us take the opportunity to consider more generally what this incident tells us about journalism around the world and in the US in particular.

Most of us know, often because we have seen footage on social media, that journalists have been treated as suspicious by US police. While visibly doing their jobs, they have been pushed, attacked and arrested by police officers. At the end of May, Omar Jimenez, a CNN reporter, was led away in handcuffs while he was live on air, reporting on the protests in Minneapolis against the killing of George Floyd. Jimenez was released and Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, apologised for his wrongful arrest.

His arrest was part of a pattern. Attempts to gather information across the US have compiled at least 140 cases of police violence against journalists since the Black Lives Matter protests began. It is a pattern that carries an unnerving echo from totalitarian states around the world. It was only this week that a police water cannon targeted a journalist in Hong Kong. We live in an age where autocrats are gaining in confidence and populists in democracies are increasingly sounding like them.

We would not attribute the recent wave of police brutality in the US to Donald Trump directly, but his violent and polarising rhetoric may well have contributed to social division – and possibly to a view among some police officers that the mainstream media is some kind of hostile force. We passionately believe that America is better than this, and indeed we know that there are many inspiring examples of community led policing in many parts of the US.

Now more than ever we need strong, independent journalism to hold the powerful to account and to give people the information they need to build a better world. That is why we are inviting readers of The Independent to give now to our Supporter Programme, a fund that is used solely to pay for investigations and reporting that would not otherwise happen. We have seen this fund put to tremendous use by Shaun Lintern, investigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the NHS, and the errors made (and still being made) in Britain’s testing systems. His reporting has set the agenda.

We have a growing readership in the US – more now than in the UK – and soon you too will be able to give to fund reporting. We would like to hear about subjects you think we should look into – you can make these suggestions by emailing letters@independent.co.uk. One subject we are discussing is that of police conduct – it is, sadly, an important subject worldwide, with far, far greater consequences than the arrest of one Independent journalist in Seattle.

Whichever subjects arise, now is the time to defend the greater cause of press freedom wherever that reporting is taking place.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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